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Sunday, January 29, 2006

Secret Identities: My Thoughts

I've seen a number of interviews about plans for the DCU after the OYL gap. (Lots of acronyms there. :-)) And one thing keeps coming back into my mind, from what is said, apparently secret identities are going to become much more important.

I'm not sure what I think about this, to be honest. On one level, I'm happy because Secret Identities allow for a lot of interesting stories centering around the characters in non combat, non heroic settings. And if nothing else, many of the recent DCU plotlines elaborate the downsides of having public, or at least not as private as one would hope, identities.

However, there are certain characters that work very well having no secret identity. Diana for one. She should never, I think, have to hide who she is behind some fake identity. She's the embodiment of truth, she's royalty, she's an ambassador, and even without Themiscyra around, I want to see her remain in that sort of role.

The Green Lanterns, I've always been fine with as they are. Guy and John are publically known (which may be problematic OYL for John...Guy's in space.) Pretty much everyone who knows Kyle Rayner has figured out that he's also a Green Lantern, (dating the green superhero chick that the GL is romantic with in public, answering to the wrong name, and transforming in semi-public places...I love the boy, but honestly, he's a little dim. :-P) I think Hal's secret is causing possibly more potential problems now than if his identity were public. But I can see why he and Kyle, who have stronger surviving family ties, try to keep their identities secret, and why Guy and John don't. "Green Lantern" isn't really a code name after all, it's a job title, and thus it's not necessarily bad to know the man in uniform.

The Bat-clan *need* their identities kept mum. With all those psychotics running around with grudges, no one's safe. In fact, that was the one thing that bothered me about Identity Crisis. Considering how paranoid the Batclan are about their identities, how the hell did everyone and their dog know that Tim Drake was Robin? I mean, the Titans know of course. And the current JLA probably least the guys who knew Bruce was Batman. But how did Jean Loring find out? I mean DC comics are hard, timeline wise, but I could swear Ray's JL didn't know Batman's identity, and Jean divorced him before Tim Drake ever wore the tights. It was just a little weird.

I always loved the bit in Divided We Fall (thanks Mallet for catching that mistake) when Wally, Kyle and Eel are shocked that Superman *has* a secret identity. As he never wears a mask. It perfectly articulated why I was never bothered by no one connecting Kal-El to Clark Kent. People see what they expect to see. Superman's lack of mask means that no one's really looking too closely to try to figure out who he is. His costume is more eye catching than he is, so it's easy to see why so many probably never got a look at his face. The common person has heard at least of the Fortress of Solitude, and it's only a mild leap to think that Superman actually lives there. Why would Superman pretend to be human?

(Of course we all know that Clark Kent came first and Superman came second, but the average populace just knows he's an alien. It's easy to assume that he just came one day, settled in, and went with the helping people shtick.)

Superman's got a reason to be cautious. He might be nigh-invulnerable, but his parents are not. Other characters though have less to lose.

I don't know. I love seeing heroes in mundane situations, but I'm a little worried that it'll all become a bit cookie cutter again: "Oh no! Character B has almost found out that I'm Superman/Batman/Green Lantern/Wonder Woman/whatever". I don't like Secret Identities for the sake of Secret Identities themselves. And variety always makes things better... Guess I'll just have to wait and see.


  • At January 29, 2006 7:09 AM, Blogger Elayne said…

    "On one level, I'm happy because Secret Identities allow for a lot of interesting stories centering around the characters in non combat, non heroic settings." Although that can be death in comics, because so many artists don't know how to make stuff that's non-combat and civilian look visually interesting.

  • At January 29, 2006 8:43 AM, Blogger Avi Green said…

    "Considering how paranoid the Batclan are about their identities, how the hell did everyone and their dog know that Tim Drake was Robin? I mean, the Titans know of course. And the current JLA probably least the guys who knew Bruce was Batman. But how did Jean Loring find out? I mean DC comics are hard, timeline wise, but I could swear Ray's JL didn't know Batman's identity, and Jean divorced him before Tim Drake ever wore the tights. It was just a little weird."

    How can this be any simpler to explain? The whole Identity Crisis book was a bigoted, barrel-scraping mishmash, and Jean's supposedly knowing Tim's identity, or anyone else's superhero identity, for that matter, was simply in order to justify the writer's apparent bias against Jean and other women in that sick little book. Or, more precisely, the possiblity that they may have erased her memories as well before they threw her implausibly into the dungeon that is Arkham. Which begs the question: when superheroes mess with the mind of a villain who committed a rape (which was very soon forgotten as the story went on), that's wrong, but when the culplit is ostensibly a woman who's probably innocent and was framed for a crime by the real crook, it's perfectly okay to mess with hers? Where's the logic in that?

    In fact, I find it hard to understand why one would-be historian went along and acted as if he believed that Ray Palmer would've actually told Jean who even Batman was, when here, superheroes usually honor their fellow crimefighter's secret IDs by not telling anyone else without their permission. But that's what I found a comics op-ed writer doing two years ago on another website, which was more or less insulting even Ray Palmer to boot.

  • At January 29, 2006 9:28 AM, Blogger Centurion said…

    Well, on a more basic and slightly off topic point, alternate personas do help when doing under cover work. If you plan to tail someone or work your way into certain circles you cannot use your 'normal' self. You have to fit in with your surroundings so as not to bring about too much attention.

    The funny thing is that for Superman that is true. (Green Lantern it doesn't seem so much true, but their style of story is a bit different, so disguise isn't such a big deal when they are patrolling space and such.) For Batman it gets a little more complicated, but it still works. He has multiple facades for his work, yet each still follow the fitting in element I described.

    What makes it funny, is that Batman must dress up as a 'hero' to fit out of the public to do his best work, whereas someone like Superman becomes normal to hide with the public. Just something that strikes me as ironic when it comes to identities.

  • At January 29, 2006 10:25 AM, Blogger kalinara said…

    elayne: that's true, I tend to forget about the tough job artists tend to have to do. (I'm not very visually oriented, as I've said). I suppose I'm working from the ideal that the artists are automatically going to be fantastic at what they do. :-)

    It's sort of an "in the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king" thing for me. I can't draw *at all*, so I'm vastly impressed by folks that can draw things that look pretty.

    avi: Well, I admit, I have read quite a few issues during the Atom's run and his Justice League years. Jean did seem to have a more prominent role, as legal aid, in the stories than most of the wives did. Considering that she was, like Sue, at least peripherally connected with the years when the JLA weren't quite so paranoid. I don't have a problem with her knowing/having figured out some heroes identities. Especially those that had been active when she worked with the League. And honestly, I don't mind the notion of Ray, believing himself to be completely in love with his wife and trusting her implicitly actually telling her about his colleagues, as she worked with them too, sometimes.

    Now using Tim confused me because timeline-wise it doesn't suit. Of course if she did manage to figure out Batman: being relatively high society and possibly having the chance to interact with Bruce Wayne and noticing his physical similarities perhaps; it could be plausible that she figured *him* out. (Though as Tim is the only male Robin *not* Bruce's ward, it'd still take a bit of work to figure him out...but maybe she's like me and easily bored.)

    centurion: Heh, oddly I see it as the opposite really. Batman's the one who masks himself for cover work. He's the one who's made Bruce Wayne such a vacuous playboy that looks and acts nothing like his real self. The bat outfit is just to scare folks, but the bat *persona* is closer to who he really is.

    Whereas Superman is actually a relatively normal guy. Clark Kent and Superman don't tend to react any different to situations. The fancy costume is just for a way to help people and still keep a private life as well. :-)

  • At January 29, 2006 2:43 PM, Blogger Captain Infinity said…

    Like you, my big fear is that we'll get stories based entirely around protecting a secret identity. I'd hate to see that.

    I love Wonder Woman in her current secret identity-less incarnation. She doesnt' need one because she's Wonder Woman. Sure, her name's Diana, but for all intents and purposes WW is her identity.

    And as far as Clark/Superman goes, the two of them have been seen together enough through various means (Superman was seen rescuing Clark from the ruins of a collapsed building after the "Death of Superman" stroyline) that as far as I'm concerned the general public just thinks "Wow, Clark Kent looks a lot like Superman."

  • At January 29, 2006 3:22 PM, Blogger Avi Green said…

    I'm also of the mindset that Wonder Woman no longer needs a secret ID today. I've got the same feelings regarding the Flash, that even he doesn't need a secret ID any longer.

  • At January 29, 2006 3:31 PM, Blogger kalinara said…

    captain and avi: I agree completely. Diana is Diana. Wonder Woman's just a name they give her. But she never tries to be anything *but* Diana. It would be a travesty I think, to hide her behind some mundane identity.

    The Flash I'm iffy about, as he does have a wife and children to protect now. Before the twins were born, I'd agree, now I'm a little leery. Because there are sickos who'd come after the kids. Jay Garrick might not be publically *officially* a Flash, but it's probably pretty obvious that he is regardless. Still, I admit, I do tend to consider having families/children to be more of a reason to keep it quiet.

    Whereas I don't really understand why Hal Jordan doesn't go public. He's not that close to his family (who are military brats anyway and used to a *little* bit of risk). and I don't think the Parallax thing would have been incredibly well known before that.

    And honestly, Mia can't be the only person to have figured out Oliver Queen was the green's not like anyone *else* still wears that sort of beard...

  • At January 29, 2006 8:19 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    To paraphrase Captain ****, having a secret identity allows you to hit people in face, really really hard, and then run away so no one knows it was you.

    Which is great if you're a vigilante crime fighter in a corrupt city and your opinion of law and order is on the low end. Or a Klan member.

    On the other hand, if you are a reporter, a champion of Truth and Justice, AND know you can conquer the world before breakfast, maybe you owe the world a little trust.

    I mean, when you fight MIND READERS, your secret identity is in danger anyway, and when they come after your loved ones (see Death of Clark Kent; Ending Battle; Ruin), you will actually have an easier time protecting them if THEY know what your enemy knows.

    And when you consider that every cop in Gotham and Metropolis fights the same psychos, and takes the same risks to his family, but still allows themselves to be held accountable to society at large for any mistakes they make, why should you get a break just because you are invulnerable.

    Which is the long way of saying that, while I LOVE superheroes, I have a problem with vigilante justice.

    And Superman should too.

  • At January 30, 2006 9:43 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Eh - I like secret identities, but I agree that not everyone needs them. If you want to be "realistic" about it, only folks who have families to protect really "need" a secret identity. Of course, I hate faux "realism" in my comics, but from a dramatic angle too, if you don't have a bunch of loved ones to protect and your secret getting out isn't a big deal, the secret identity doesn't give you much drama to play off of and is therefore irrelevant to the story.

    Unlike steven, I don't mind Superman not being up-front with the world about his identity. If he were a real person in the real world, sure it would bother me - a lot. But a lot of stuff goes on in comics that would scare the bejeebers out of me in real life, and I suspect that real-world superheroes would more resemble the faux-"realism" of Mark Millar or Warren Ellis than the work of a Kurt Busiek or a Grant Morrison. In comics, Superman hiding his secret identity causes a lot of drama - especially now that he has real family ties instead of how he was in the 60s when he seemed to hide his identity solely to torment his co-workers.

    As for Wonder Woman, I'm okay with them giving her a "secret identity" again as long as its for the right reasons. As "ambassador from Themiscyra" having a secret identity makes no sense - but if Paradise Island is gone and it looks like she's going to need to make a life for herself without them, setting up a secret identity wouldn't be a bad thing to do.

    (But she better not be a secretary again. I meen, yeesh, at least Clark gets to be a reporter. If she gets a secret ID, it better be something that can do good in the world alongside her costumed one. A college professor might be a good choice, come to think of it...)


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